A federal jury in the Eastern District of New York convicted a Canadian man, Patrice Runner, Friday for perpetrating a decades-long mass-mailing fraud scheme that stole more than $175 million from victims in the United States.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Patrice Runner, 57, a Canadian and French citizen, operated a mass-mailing fraud scheme from 1994 through November 2014. As part of the scheme, Runner sent letters to millions of U.S. consumers, many elderly and vulnerable. The letters falsely purported to be individualized, personal communications from so-called “psychics,” including Maria Duval (leading this type of fraud scheme to be referred to as a “Maria Duval Scam“), and promised that the recipient had the opportunity to achieve great wealth and happiness with the psychic’s assistance, in exchange for payment of a fee. Once a victim made a single payment in response to one of the letters, the victim was bombarded with dozens of additional letters, all purporting to be personalized communications from the psychics and offering other services and items for a fee.
Although the scheme’s letters frequently stated that a psychic had seen a personalized vision regarding the recipient of the letter, in fact, the scheme sent nearly identical form letters to tens of thousands of victims each week. Runner and his co-conspirators obtained the names of elderly and vulnerable victims by renting and trading mailing lists with other mail fraud schemes. In reality, the so-called “psychics” identified in the letters sent by the scheme had no role in sending the letters, did not receive responses from the victims, and did not send the additional letters after the victims paid money. Some victims made dozens of payments in response to the fraudulent letters, losing thousands of dollars.
Runner directed the scheme for its 20-year operation, providing instructions to co-conspirators who ran the day-to-day operations through a Canadian company. Runner used a series of shell companies registered in Canada and Hong Kong to hide his involvement in the scheme while living in multiple foreign countries, including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Spain.
Runner was extradited from Spain to the United States in December 2020.
“This case exemplifies the commitment of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and its partners in the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to investigating and prosecuting fraud schemes targeting Americans, no matter where in the world those schemes originate,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We will work with our law enforcement partners in the United States and around the world to bring to justice criminals who target Americans.”
“For over 20 years, Patrice Runner managed a predatory scheme that targeted older Americans by mailing personalized letters to millions of victims purporting to be from a world renowned psychic. Yesterday’s verdict should have come as no surprise to Mr. Runner,” said Inspector in Charge Chris Nielsen of the Postal Inspection Service’s Philadelphia Division. “Postal Inspectors are committed to protecting American consumers by eliminating these fraudulent mailings from the mailstream.”
Runner was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, eight counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was found not guilty on four counts of mail fraud.
Runner will be sentenced at a later date and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count. He remains in prison pending sentencing. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Four other people previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with this mass-mailing fraud scheme: Maria Thanos, 59, of Montreal, Canada; Philip Lett, 52, of Montreal, Canada; Sherry Gore, 72, of Indiana; and Daniel Arnold, 61, of Connecticut.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated the case. Assistant Director John W. Burke and Trial Attorneys Charles B. Dunn, Rachel Baron, and Ann Entwistle of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with law enforcement partners in Spain to secure the arrest and extradition of Runner.